Friday, January 31, 2020

Blog 16: A Story Well Told

Today I was part of the Winter Institute at the MAC, Inc. Area Agency on Aging and it was a delightful experience. The description of my program included, “come experience the magic of a story well-told.”  
I didn’t know that would actually happen.
A bit of background. In 1996, I performed as a storyteller for the very first time, ever. A storyteller named Beth Vaughn gave me that first opportunity at a time when everything in my world had fallen apart and I needed something wonderful to happen.  The Potomac Celtic Festival happened in June, in Leesburg, VA and it was a massive two-day festival. Sadly, that festival has gone the way of many such events, but it was a grand affair in 1996. Over the course of those 2 days, I told a total of 4 times, and then closed the festival in an olio with all the tellers participating.

That final olio was emceed by Michael Gaudreau, a storyteller from Baltimore. Michael was not the typical emcee. He was far more creative than that.  He used the Irish folktale, ”The Man who Had No Story” as an umbrella tale. In the story, Brian O’Braonachiain, a basket maker, depletes the supply of rods for basket making in all the surrounding villages. In desperation, he goes to Alt an Torr for he hears there are rods to be cut, despite the warning that Alt an Torr is a fairy glen. Brian is pulled into the land of the fairy and finds refuge in a warm cottage with a kindly old man…until Brian confesses that he has no story to tell. Then, Brian is magically kicked to the curb but once again finds refuge.  This time, he stumbles into a wake, and at the insistence of the woman in charge, does things he swore he could not do with people he swore he did not know. When he is transported back into his own time, he no longer wants to cut rods and make baskets. He just wants to tell the story of all that befell him in the land of the fairy.
Michael wove each and every teller into that story. I didn’t remember how he did that, but that experience was etched upon my heart, to be pulled out 20+ years later.
When I was invited to be a part of the Winter Institute at MAC, Inc. Area Agency on Aging, I needed to come up with a 90-minute program. Ninety minutes is a very long time to be telling stories without a break, and part of the idea of the Institute was that some kind of learning take place.  After calling on my Muse to help me, the idea for the program emerged.  I would tell stories for the first 40 minutes, have about 30 minutes of interactive, spontaneous storytelling among the audience members to coax the closet storytellers to show themselves, and then incorporate those stories into “The Man who Had No Story” to end the program, just as Michael Gaudreau had done all those years ago.  Once I found printed versions of the story, I began to look for the exact place where Michael had incorporated the storytellers in his tent. I realized that there would be no weaving of storytellers.  There would need to be a substitution.  What part of the story could be cut so that other stories could be added?
I decided to cut the experiences Brian had at the wake were cut from the story, in order to add the stories of the participants…which gave a slightly different ending to the story. I had distributed story prompts from Donald Davis’ gem of a book “Telling Your Own Stories” among the audience members.  They were given time to share the story that the prompt brought to mind in small groups of three. As they were creating these stories with strangers, the energy in the room changed. The room was alive…charged with positive energy…warmth…love.   I then asked for the closet storytellers to come out and make themselves known.  There were three.
I launched into “The Man who Had No Story” trusting the power of story to manifest in these three tellers.
The first story that was shared was the story of a blind chicken that had been brought to her to be rescued. With the help of her 8-year-old grandson, the chick was saved and allowed to grow and mature.  She and her grandson had become most attached to this bird, and when they went out to the chicken coop one morning to visit, this American Beauty chicken laid her first egg.  It was blue. The chicken not only survived, it thrived! There is a photograph of her grandson holding this first blue egg.
The second story was the story of how this woman made her father proud. She talked about his high standards and the feeling that she could never measure up to those standards… until she did.  She broke away from the family business and started her own business. It was the same type of business, but it was hers.  By now her father had retired, so she wasn’t competition for him, but she was still his daughter.  He drove his truck to her place of business every day to watch her progress.  When he could no longer walk, she bought him a wheelchair so that he could go inside and see her place of business. As she wheeled him through, he said to her, “This is the best business I’ve ever seen.”  She had finally won his praise and made him proud.
The third story was about the first major purchase that this woman had every made.  She had wanted to purchase an electric typewriter so that she could more easily type her papers while in college.  It was a major purchase back then.  Her father said that he would pay for it, but she had to pay him back.  At that time, she was working in the library part time making 75 cents/hour.  It took a long time to pay Dad back.  But she did, and it taught her that nothing comes for free. And oh, by the way, she still has that typewriter.
The Muse was in the room. I channeled that energy. Three stories from the heart. Spontaneous. Wonderful. The power of story connected us and made magic.
Tell more stories. It creates the intimacy we crave and it doesn’t cost a thing.